Plants as chemical factories: a science club activity


This short activity encourages students to think about the plants around them in a whole new light – as chemical factories. This is a great practical for science clubs, or to encourage gardening clubs to think differently about the plants they grow.

Plants are chemical factories, producing a huge range of different compounds, some poisonous, others life saving.

20 to 30% of vascular plants have trichomes on their surfaces, including hairs and glandular hairs. Glandular hairs produce a variety of different compounds, often highly concentrated secondary metabolites valuable for defence. Easily available plants such as basil, mint, sage and tomatoes are great examples of these.

In many cases, we can see the trichomes on the plant using very basic microscopic equipment. Even if trichomes are not visible on the plant, we can demonstrate their presence by rubbing the leaf, and smelling the compounds released.

Download the full resource from the link on the right.

This resource was developed by Nicola Smith, education officer at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York. CNAP has worked for many years developing life-saving new varieties of Artemesia Annua to be used in the production of the anti-malarial drug artemesinin.

You can view and download a wonderful collection of images of anti-malarial plants and plant scientists.

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